Walking the Wheats Alley

Cropping alley 3, Water Field. Along with the YQ and Q population wheats and naked barley and Oland wheat, this mixed alley (with one bed in alley 2) brings even more diversity to the farm and to the bakery. It will be wonderful to see them side-by-side to compare how different they are in terms of height, colour, ear shape, naked and husked. From the field to the bakery, we will then compare their flavours, textures, protein content and much more.

This is an alley of

  • Education and inspiration – teaching farmers and future generations of farmers about non-commodity wheats to grow to advance an alternative grain economy in the UK and some grains that could work well around them; teaching bakers how to bake with grains that they might have never used, that are better for our health and that of our planet.
  • Connections, relationships, and stories – a vehicle to talk about other farms, farmers and plant breeders in the UK, their regenerative approaches to farming and how they were inspired by Martin Wolfe’s work with populations.
  • Flavour and nourishment – when we harvest these wheats, most of them will be used directly in Wakelyns Balery. It will be so interesting to taste them all, compare them and demonstrate how diverse, delicious and nourishing grains are.

Wheats in order of planting from East to West –

Purple Naked Spelt from Andrew Forbes, grown at Gothelney Farm, Somerset, by Fred Price

This was originally given to Andy, founder of Brockwell Bake (Bringing “long straw” landrace milling wheats back into cultivation across the British Isles) and South Eastern Grain Alliance, by Anders Borgen, organic wheat breeder in Denmark where it started as a spontaneous cross between a spelt and a purple wheat, most probably Konini. Konini was originally designed as a laboratory tool in New Zealand to measure the rate of such spontaneous crosses in wheat but has since become a speciality wheat for its flavour as well as anti-oxidant properties in New Zealand. The purple colour comes from the tetraploid or diploid wheats of Ethiopia. 

Aside from the purple colour the strange thing about Andy’s purple naked spelt is that it clearly continues to cross at a much higher rate than a normal wheat. So from being slightly higher than a normal modern wheat it has crossed with his heritage wheats on allotment becoming overall taller and having a multiplicity of ear types, sometimes throwing back to being hulled, which is now being saved as a separate population. 

The purple colour does not carry through universally in tasting tests done so far but the flavour from both spelt and purple wheat does.

Andy is working on increasing his PNS to get it to more regenerative farms in the UK and into more bakeries therefore some of the grain will be used on the farm in the bakery and some will go back to Andy or another farm to grow again next winter and bulk up the seed.

It will be interesting to have a naked grain growing, illustrating the difference between naked and husked grains and the different processes involved in creating the flour, as well as just being able to eat the grain as it is, similar to naked oats.

Spelt grows relatively tall. The purple colour should be noticeable.

Edgar Wheat from John and Guy Turner at Turners of Bytham Organic Farm

A German variety of E-wheat, E for Elite, Edgar is a modern wheat popular with organic farmers as it grows well and is a good bread and biscuit wheat, therefore a good all-round wheat to show to farmers who are thinking of a more regenerative approach. We are really looking forward to trying it in the bakery. John and Guy Turner have been growing it for a number of years with excellent results. At Turners, they also grow the YQ population wheat along with Oland, Cornovii, Naked Oats, Marrowfat Peas and Oak Farm Population. John and Guy have a direct relationship with Kimberley Bell and her team at Small Food Bakery and Turners is now the only farm they use for all their grains. On visiting the bakery, just as we will show at the Wakelyns Bakery, you can immediately taste the advantages of local grain economies, all of the bread and baked goods are wonderful! Kim was the first baker to use the Wakelyns YQ population wheat in her sourdough bread and is now an ambassador for it, inspiring other farmers to grow it and other bakers around the UK to bake with it.

This is not semi-dwarf but it will grow much lower than the spelt.

Oak Farm Population developed by Edward Dickin, from Turners of Bytham Organic Farm

OFP began as a mixture of the landraces Red Lammas, Old Hoary, Orange Devon Blue Rough Chaff, Hen Gymro and Tsiteli Doli, with about one third Mulika x Holdfast. The latter is a population from a modern x 1930s cross, which has stronger straw than the landraces and stronger gluten. The idea was to strengthen the landraces in the field and in the dough.

Further landrace, Holdfast and modern wheat crosses (14 in total, including Mulika x Holdfast) were added in the Mk2 version. The version at Wakelyns is a combined Mk1 and Mk2. The quality landraces, such as Red Lammas, were never used as parents by 20th century wheat breeders, who concentrated on improving square head wheat by crossing with Canadian hard wheat (e.g. Yeoman and Holdfast). Therefore, OFP contains a gene pool not found in any modern wheat. With each year of growing, natural selection will cause the frequency of alleles to change within the population, so what started as a mixture becomes over time a modern landrace population.

Edward Dickin works at Harper Adams University where he teaches crop production. He was very much inspired by the ORC Wakelyns YQ and Q population wheats and now breads naked barley, spelt, rivet and bread wheat as well as working on his parents’ farm.

This will grow relatively tall.

Purple Paragon Wheat from Nick Fradgley at NIAB, formerly worked with Martin Wolfe and the ORC at Wakelyns

Purple Paragon is a ‘breeding line’ rather than an actual registered variety derived from back-crossing a NIAB line with purple pericarp to the commercial variety ‘Paragon’ and the purple grain colour has been maintained. This is therefore unique and so no organically certified seed is available and seed has previously been multiplied at NIAB, Cambridge. We will be growing it at Waklyns as a trial and multiplying some for seed, using the rest in the bakery. As noted with the purple naked spelt, the purple grain trait is thought to have originated in Durum wheat landraces in the Ethiopian highlands where purple anthocyanin’s is an adaptation to growing at high altitude as protection from intense sunlight. The trait has since been inter-crossed into many other bread wheat varieties around the world but these purple wheats are still rare because of lack of interest from the industry. There is now increasing interest in the potentially huge health benefits of cereal anthocyanin pigments: ‘The claimed health benefits include anti-oxidation, anti-cancer, glycemic and bodyweight regulation, neuroprotection, retinal protection, hypolipidemia, hepatoprotection, and anti-ageing.’

This will grow lower than the OFP with a contrasting purple-ish colour.

Cornovii, formulated as a mixture, developed by Fred Price with John Turner, from Turners of Bytham Organic Farm

From Fred, ‘We are exploring lots of different genetics on farm, we have 7-8000 to work through.  But the accessions – distinct types/sorts/varieties – in the Cornovii number just 7.  They represent my very first foray into alternative cereals, goodness 7 years ago or more! At that point my focus was on varieties that were suitable for bread and about before the green revolution/dwarfing, around the 1960s, and that some information showed may be useful. Of the 70-80 winter sown accessions I tried over a couple of years, these 7 were of the most interest to me in terms of on farm behaviour. You will notice some of them might be called ‘landraces’.  However it is my firm belief that these landraces no longer behave in the same way they would have done in the 15-1600s.  The process of being ‘saved’ ex-situ i.e. in a gene bank is inevitably limiting, not least because I only receive 5g of each from the gene banks to resow and experiment with – how much diversity can be captured in such a process?  Therefore we elected to mix the most useful together, to try and reclaim some diversity. As wheat outcrosses naturally by 3% every year, and yours will be the 3rd year since we composed the mix for John Turner and Kimberley Bell, I would expect the crop to begin to take on a life of its own.  But these were the original components, each in equal quantities originally:

Red Lammas – you think of hard milling wheats from the old days you think of Red Lammas.  It is a long, lax ear, lanky like me and really quite evocative of a time gone by. 1600s ish.

Percival’s Blue Cone Rivet – a rivet wheat (tetraploid like Durum) again a proper medieval wheat.  Andy Forbes explained to me it wasn’t usually milled/baked on its own, but complemented by Lammas types.  We tried this in our 2019 harvest tasting with a 50:50 Lammas:Blue Cone mix. It was better than either wheat on its own! It is a quite beautiful wheat when in ear in June – July, it’s silky and purple, truly lovely and you will be able to pick it out no trouble.

Orange Devon Blue Rough Chaff – another old type, similar in habit to Lammas but (as the name suggests) seems to relish the predominantly wet South West and septoria/fusarium pressures that brings.  It far exceeds any other type in this mix for performance under pressure. And June – July the straw is a lovely deep red orange colour, quite beautiful.  The bakers down here also seem particularly fond of its functionality and flavour. So I am a huge fan! Many of us grain geeks refer to a couple of books by John Percival who was writing in the early 20th Century.  The fact that ODBRC (as we call it!) was still around when he was writing says it all, most other landraces had fallen by the wayside in favour of other early modern cultivars.

Hen Gymru – as above, a Welsh wheat that loves the South West and also clung onto cultivation later than most landraces.  Baking wise it seems to be a stress.  There are various accessions of Hen Gymru, ours is S70. Definitely in the top 7, but I wouldn’t take it to my desert island

There we leave the landraces and 3 early modern wheats remain; all 3 are a more moderate height. Speaking with the Grain Lab in US there is some theory of having mixed crop architecture (mixed canopy) is better suited to capture sunlight so this is a win.

Wilhelmina – I spent an afternoon at NABIM (National Association of British and Irish Millers) who have been around since the late 1800s.  I was sat in their archive room and started with their earliest AGM reports. Around 1887 they were all moaning about the poor quality of British wheats, a couple of the mills were resorting to imports from Europe and the name Wilhelmina was held in high regard. So I got some. It is a stunning white – pale grain, very bold.

Yeoman – with hindsight I’d probably not have included the Yeoman. However it does have good pedigree. At the turn of the century alongside mounting pressure from millers about quality of domestic wheat, the Plant Breeding Institute was established with the principal aim, initially, of bringing together the yield/suitability of the British wheats with the quality hard milling wheats of North America. Yeoman was bred in 1916 by Rowland Biffen and was a cross between Browick (lowly but well suited to UK) and Canadian Red Fife (oooff!)

Holdfast – like the Wilhelmina this is a beautiful pale grain, quite bold. A later cross between Yeoman and White Fife.  It is the highest yielding of all 7 in my experience. That yield often limits its protein content compared to many of the others.

From John, ‘The story behind the Cornovii name goes something like this: Fred put together a mix of 7 varieties that he thought should do well together – Hen Gymru, Holdfast, Devon Orange Blue Rough Chaff, Percivals Blue Cone, Red Lammas, Wilhelmina and Yeoman. The mix itself wasn’t named when we got it and we wanted something fairly simple, particularly when it was turned into flour, so I started thinking about the “7” and hence the (roman) “vii”.  A with so many things, there was a degree of serendipity because I had quickly drawn a blank in finding a word with “vii” in it, so instead started thinking about Celtic tribes, this reflecting a sort of indigenous heritage population. A quick search of tribes threw up “Cornovii” which seemed a perfect fit on so many levels – aside from the Celtic tribe and the “vii” coming together, the “Corn” was entirely apt and the “Novi” suggested something of the new as well, reflecting Fred’s development work. This year’s seed has been further enhanced with some varieties added by Fred, so I guess is no longer a true “vii”, but the name still reflects the roots of its development and seems entirely appropriate!                                                                  

This will grow taller than the Paragon.

Red Lammas from Fred Price at Gothelney Farm, Somerset

A landrace wheat grown in South East England up until the late 19th century. A landrace is a diverse population where the alleles (genetic traits) that are best adapted to local conditions become more frequent in the population by natural selection. Red Lammas was recognised as one of the best landraces for baking quality, being called the King of Wheats and in demand by London bakers. Red Lammas has thin bran that makes fine flakes when stone milled. The last landraces still grown in Britain were the Hen Gymro landraces in Wales, due to their ability to tolerate more marginal conditions, lasting into the 1930s. Red Lammas would have been grown in Suffolk in the 16th century and it will be great to see it growing here again and to bake with it.

This will grow lower than the Paragon, with a contrasting red-ish colour.